Aug 24, 2009

Davis Foster Wallace, the Media and Writing

David Foster Wallace is/was about as close to a rock star as a person can become in modern literature. He wrote several books and several more essays, all of which have received critical acclaim and much attention from students of modern lit. Like many geniuses, it seems, he was not able to sustain it, and ended up committing suicide last September.

I have read several DFW works, including The Girl with Unusual Hair, one or two short stories that I can't recall, and Infinite Jest. I am now Jonesing for DFW essays...

This weekend, I had the chance to listen to a podcast of the The Wisconsin Pubic Radio Show "To the Best of our Knowledge" devoted to David Foster Wallace. I am well aware of the themes in Infinite Jest, and the media and entertainment in general looms large in this novel, but listening to the interviews with DFW and the critics in this podcast drove home something that I had not fully appreciated until now.

I learned that Wallace struggled with the media, and more specifically the impact of media on writers. I have to believe that a lot of other writes have felt this as well, but I have not been able to put words to this until listening to him talk about it on the podcast. With the media saturating our lives with information and entertainment, it's damn difficult to write anything anything that does not feel derivative; spun off of a "Friends" episode or some other pop culture detritus. In fact, with the constant saturation of pop culture, it's hard for anything you think or write or draw or create to not be derivative. Smart and snarky is the new good, and the effort and risk of putting out some original thought and insight makes no sense in this world.

The old maxim says that being able to name the problem is the first step in solving it. This problem seems kind of difficult to fight, given the pervasiveness of media and pop culture, but being aware of it might make it more manageable to at least resist.

1 comment:

  1. I just finished rereading Infinite Jest. DFW was a genius and a bastard. I know he took great pleasure in the relentless footnotation. What a book.

    I forget which book it is in, but his essay on taking a cruise is pretty good.